Edward Sapir (18841939). Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech. 1921.
which the bricks are fashioned. In this chapter we shall have nothing further to do with sounds as sounds.
The true, significant elements of language are generally sequences of sounds that are either words, significant parts of words, or word groupings. What distinguishes each of these elements is that it is the outward sign of a specific idea, whether of a single concept or image or of a number of such concepts or images definitely connected into a whole. The single word may or may not be the simplest significant element we have to deal with. The English words sing, sings, singing, singer each conveys a perfectly definite and intelligible idea, though the idea is disconnected and is therefore functionally of no practical value. We recognize immediately that these words are of two sorts. The first word, sing, is an indivisible phonetic entity conveying the notion of a certain specific activity. The other words all involve the same fundamental notion but, owing to the addition of other phonetic elements, this notion is given a particular twist that modifies or more closely defines it. They represent, in a sense, compounded concepts that have flowered from the fundamental one. We may, therefore, analyze the words sings, singing, and singer as binary expressions involving a fundamental concept, a concept of subject matter (sing), and a further concept of more abstract orderone of person, number, time, condition, function, or of several of these combined.
If we symbolize such a term as sing by the algebraic formula A, we shall have to symbolize such terms as sings and singer by the formula A + b.1The element A may be either a complete and independent word (sing) or the fundamental substance, the so-called root or
Note 1. We shall reserve capitals for radical elements. [back]